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Marley is a whitewash but still worth watching

May 6, 2012

From scenes of a white washed slave castle at Cape Coast to the swathes of white concertgoers screaming at the planet’s first ‘third world superstar’, Marley takes you on a journey from Bob’s poverty to superstardom.

I’m not sure this film compares well to my interpretation of the man. Bob Marley was a Rastafarian. Whilst Kevin McDonald’s film acknowledges the affect this had on his music, it doesn’t really acknowledge the affect it had on his message. There is a lot of reasoning and herb smoking but these just reinforce popular cartoonish depictions of Jamaica and Rastafarianism and give no real insight.

Bob Marley (to me) was a Rastafarian first and musician second. This means I understand his message to be about emancipation and freedom from mental slavery. The last time I checked, white people don’t really need emancipation and freedom from mental slavery. Central to the belief of all practising Rastafarians is the pursuit of pan-Africanism, the championship of black history and a God that reflects an image of Africa, not Europe. Marley’s desire to speak to black people around the world and confront the continuation of and legacy of white oppression was absent from this film. It does acknowledge his hunger for a wider black audience, but it never dwells on the link this hunger had with his religion.

That is not all that is missing. Bob Marley was a black man who travelled the world but the film only depicts the prejudice he encountered as a ‘brown skinned’ man in his village, not any he would have elsewhere. This is misleading.

The film was still watchable. The light-skinned offspring of Marley Snr. provide light hearted and poignant moments, as do the masses of footage that will delight a generation like mine who never experienced the Marley machine in real life (he died seven months before I was born). It’s true to the cultural and physical landscape of Jamaica. Juicy green mountains, bright sunny beaches and a diverse population stunningly showcase all the island has to offer.

It’s got former Wailers recalling their humble beginnings and tales of conflict when comprise is required once at the cusp of success. It’s got the women (not all of them but some of them) and the children (not all of them but some of them).

It is a shame there isn’t more content about Marley’s contemporaries who were not his band mates. Jimmy Cliff is sadly given only a minute or so of coverage even though he was one of Jamaica’s great exports in the 70s and 80s too. Early Marley producer Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry is given some airtime but let’s just say he’s there for entertainment, not insight. There is little context about the rise of reggae on the whole; and a newcomer would wrongly leave this cinema thinking reggae music was an album of Bob’s and not a rich genre in itself.

All in all, this film is a celebration of his life. Not a dissection of his values and identity. Marley championed the powerless and the powerless people of world who adopted this icon now have a film they can remember him by too. Despite my reservations, I don’t think Bob would complain. After 2hrs 30mins, he still comes out of it a legend.

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